Yenetta Code - Transforming the Landscape of Ethiopian tech
A computer science graduate, Nathan Damtew is not only an established developer but has also set his sights on transforming the landscape of Ethiopian tech.
By Kal Ayele
As the world continues to shine a light on hi-tech, Ethiopia has also shifted focus and started to embrace it fully. It is no wonder that so much attention is being given to technology, considering our every move is subject to tech advances. More and more people are choosing to pursue education and careers related to it.
A computer science graduate, Nathan Damtew is not only an established developer but has also set his sights on transforming the landscape of Ethiopian tech. After receiving his degree, Nathan first ventured into the teaching-learning game by creating and launching his interactive learning app BeBlocky in 2017. BeBlocky is a gamified programming teaching app that introduces young children to the fundamentals of coding. Heeding its success, Nathan founded Yenetta Code a year later in 2018.
With about ten staff, and a learning center located here in Addis, Yenetta Code aims to give kids ages five and above a solid foundation in programming. Although the primary focus of Yenetta is coding, they provide workshops on other courses, including programming, robotics, 3D modeling, and printing. Before the global pandemic, instructors used to provide after-school programs to kids in various schools. School closures due to Covid halted this practice, but as life gets back to normal, the program will soon start anew.
“Not a lot of people in Ethiopia know what Yenetta means, unfortunately; I thought they did. It means ye kes astemari in amharic.” Nathan clarifies the idea behind the unique name. “The Yenetta is the one who teaches pupils the alphabet, essentially the single most crucial person who introduces them to learning. We picked this name for that reason; we want to be the first to teach these children coding.” A few years prior, while starring in a kid’s video, Nathan had interestingly enough played a Yenetta. This was, however, a purely coincidental incident.
“I had never imagined myself as a teacher, especially a kids’ teacher. That was definitely a surprise for me.” Nathan remarked, pleasantly surprised to see the path his career took. “It was a lot of work navigating the world of instructing children; it took time to understand the various approaches. However, through time, my colleagues and I figured out how to manage it.”
“We make sure the tools we use, be it BeBlocky or others, are gamified to ensure the lessons are engaging.”
One of the ways Yenetta teaches the kids is by presenting their instruction material in a fun and interactive approach, perfect for young children eager to play. This system provides a low-stress environment that allows the kids to flourish. “We make sure the tools we use, be it BeBlocky or others, are gamified to ensure the lessons are engaging.” Yenetta teaches younger children using colors and shapes, while the older ones get to use graphical programming blocks. This allows kids of all ages to pay attention to solving the problem without worrying about the intricacies of coding.
One noteworthy thing about Yenetta is how they encourage peer-to-peer learning. As is the practice with its namesake, the older and more advanced kids get to teach the younger ones. This form of innovative learning displays different results, as the way they communicate with one another is unlike how teachers and students communicate.
“The thinking process is what I wanted to focus on. The thinking comes first and the writing second,”
When asked why Yenetta Code targets young kids when numerous similar companies make their audience older age groups, Nathan responded by looking back at his own experience with higher education. “My friends and I were fortunate enough to have already had a foundation in computer science; that’s what led me to target this group. Everything was new when we started computer science class; we skipped the thinking part and started coding. No one really understood it.” Nathan believes that solving problems through coding requires a foundation that students should develop early. “The thinking process is what I wanted to focus on. The thinking comes first and the writing second,” he told Loline. “By the time our kids join higher education, they will have already had the thinking process down, which will help them considerably, even if they don’t want to join a computer science field.”
“I’ve seen how kids get inspired when they find out that I built BeBlocky,” as Nathan adds more reasons he decided to work on kids. “These kids have never thought Ethiopians could develop such applications. The older ones are just as inspired when they watch or listen to my interviews. You can imagine how inspired they are, just realizing software like BeBlocky can be built in their country.”
“Parents are used to taking their children to football, karate, and swimming lessons. They are not aware of how coding could help their kids.”
The primary challenge Yenetta continues to face is awareness. “Parents are used to taking their children to football, karate, and swimming lessons. They are not aware of how coding could help their kids.” There tends to be a focus on extracurricular activities having the fastest and most visible yields instead of ones that take time to manifest.
When asked about what he believed should change to help Yenetta thrive, Nathan answered, “The government should add computer science as a mandatory course to the curriculum. As for the private sector, it can be more involved in supporting schools by providing computers and infrastructure.”
Speaking on how he kept his team motivated, Nathan admitted not doing anything special. He asserted, “First thing first, they need to see the dream! We are all on the same path and want to fill the gap that we see”. The Yenetta staff comprises individuals with one chief goal; to enrich coming generations with coding know-how.
As long as Yenetta Code continues to inspire and innovate, the landscape of Ethiopian tech will surely soar. Nathan’s optimistic disposition is rooted in his belief that, through consistency and collaboration, future generations will have the necessary skills to transform the Ethiopian digital economy. “The goal,” he states, “is to produce a skilled generation that can build the country’s digital economy. ”